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Old 09-15-2010, 01:24 PM   #1
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


Hi all,

I am looking at buying a very old house (around 100 years), and found the basement is the biggest concern. Although it seems dry and the wood beams are not rotten, they do crack, and a stick poke can make some big wood chips drop. An experienced contractor told me there is no structural issues or sagging from the above floor though.

So I am wondering if it is possible to replace the wood beams at some point? If so, how hard would it be?

Thanks in advance for any advice.

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Old 09-15-2010, 05:54 PM   #2
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


"So I am wondering if it is possible to replace the wood beams at some point? If so, how hard would it be?" - Yes. Very difficult.

Do a search, above, for "replacing sagging floor joists" or similar.

Gary

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Old 09-15-2010, 05:59 PM   #3
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


I don't follow your post at all. You say the contractor told you the floors were not sagging. This should be easy to confirm. You said the beams "crack". By this I assume you mean there are cracks in the beam, which is totally normal for an old beam, and in and of itself not a cause for concern. There are cracks in my head, and I am not planning on replacing it either.

You said the beams are not rotten, however a stick poke can make big chips drop. If the beam is not rotten, why would large pieces drop if you merely poked with a stick?

In any case, old wooden beams are fine as long as they are properly sized, have been kept dry, and have not been attacked by insects. All of these possibilities can be evaluated by an experienced inspector. If there is nothing wrong with the beams, I would have another beer and forget about replacing them, huge work for potentially no gain.
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Old 09-15-2010, 08:50 PM   #4
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


you could sister ajoist next to the beam if you are really concerned, or just stick in more posts. its not like you are going to finish a 100 yo basement.
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Old 09-16-2010, 05:56 AM   #5
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


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So I am wondering if it is possible to replace the wood beams at some point? If so, how hard would it be?
Ayuh,... It would be cheaper, 'n easier to tear it down,+ start over...
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Old 09-16-2010, 06:29 AM   #6
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


It's *very* difficult to replace such beams without causing at least some cracking of drywall and plaster on floors above.

Many of the wood framed houses I inspect were built pre 1900, and typically the majority of settling of their foundations, footings and wooden structural elements occurred in the first 10-20 years after construction. When their wooden beams are properly sized, the columns supporting them have appropriate footings, and there are no changes and grading and drainage which affect the stability of the underlying soil, many have continued to function properly for a century or more.

I do occasionally observe such beams which were incorrectly sized or supported, or which have sustained insect, water and/or fire damage, but typically the results are readily apparent if you know what to look for. If you are concerned about the adequacy of a particular portion of a structure, have it evaluated by a Structural Engineer familiar with evaluating and correcting problems in residential construction.
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Old 09-16-2010, 07:03 AM   #7
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


What Michael said. Pay a structural engineer to look it over.

Also, if a stick causes chunks of beam to rain down, sounds like there may be termite damage.
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Old 09-16-2010, 07:26 AM   #8
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


Posts #s 6 and 3 are pretty much on the mark. A little sag in a floor after 100 years is not uncommon and if you see no cosmetic reason to undertake what will (and I assure you) be a costly and quite possibly detremental exercise in futility, leave it alone. Some woods, even though you might be able to pick off a chip here or there are actually harder and stronger after many years. Sometimes -- If it ain't broke - don't fix it. is properly applied to a situation and this may just be one.

Just out of curiousity, What size are these joists? what is the maximum span? Are they notched on the ends as many 2X8 and such were notched and set into a mortise, then pegged from top side. Making them the structural equivalant of the narrowest portion at the tenon. And has anyone stated with certainty what type of wood this is? Go upstairs and jump a few times at different areas (If you're not a huge person) what effect if any do you notice? Termites might have done a little damage - but many times they are gone and the damage minimal. You'll have a termite inspection if you pursue this investment also iI would assume.
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Last edited by jackofmany; 09-16-2010 at 07:29 AM. Reason: Add info
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Old 09-16-2010, 04:30 PM   #9
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


i have a similar situation as you. old house, one single 12x12 wooden center beam that spans 30' with a single support in the middle (center support is literally a tree trunk). it has been like that for years until someone (not me) decided to add more support columns to take out some of the drop that happens over the years. i do not know if they also poured better footing under the new steel jack stands.. but seemed to do the job just fine.

some unlevel floors and sags are normal for this type of construction and age. your "experienced" house inspector should be able to spot severe damage that needs attention. if he said it's fine, i'd be OK with that. if you need a 2nd opinion, pay a structural engineer to give an opinion.

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Old 09-16-2010, 05:13 PM   #10
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


I was a little confused as well by the statements "there are no structural issues" and "a stick poke can make some big wood chips drop". That aside though, it seems that most of the issues have been addressed. The only thing that I would add is that one of the things I always look at in a home of this age is the mechanical systems, and their affect on the structure. Since most of these houses were not designed for central heating and cooling systems, electricity in any or all rooms, indoor plumbing, etc., and engineers were seldom involved, many significant compromises have been made to structural members as such improvements were made.
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Old 09-16-2010, 05:37 PM   #11
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


Just to clarify.... fact OP felt need to post the question here indicates some remaining uncertainty on OP's part. For me, that is sufficient reason to have a structural engineer take a look to backstop the home inspector (some of whom are good and some of whom are, well.....)
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Old 09-16-2010, 07:20 PM   #12
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


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Originally Posted by Knucklez View Post
i have a similar situation as you. old house, one single 12x12 wooden center beam that spans 30' with a single support in the middle (center support is literally a tree trunk). it has been like that for years until someone (not me) decided to add more support columns to take out some of the drop that happens over the years. i do not know if they also poured better footing under the new steel jack stands.. but seemed to do the job just fine.

some unlevel floors and sags are normal for this type of construction and age. your "experienced" house inspector should be able to spot severe damage that needs attention. if he said it's fine, i'd be OK with that. if you need a 2nd opinion, pay a structural engineer to give an opinion.

Knucklez
similar situation in my house, save the beam is a length of RR rail.
There are signs of somewhat severe settling in areas, but they added in a bunch of modern posts. Its rock solid now, and its not like I plan on doing much with the old basement. As far as I'm concerned, its a crawlspace you can stand in. I'm actually planning on putting a trapdoor over the stairway to make the area a more usable pantry.
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Old 09-25-2010, 03:52 PM   #13
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


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I'm actually planning on putting a trapdoor over the stairway to make the area a more usable pantry.
...


don't rule out that some day you may wish to excavate the foundation (one bucket at a time) to lower the floor and give your self a real size basement.
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Old 09-25-2010, 05:24 PM   #14
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


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don't rule out that some day you may wish to excavate the foundation (one bucket at a time) to lower the floor and give your self a real size basement.
trapdoors pivot up to permit access to the areas below.

before I went through all that you are suggesting, I'd start fresh, with a basement that has a usable full 8' ceiling height already.
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Old 09-25-2010, 09:11 PM   #15
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Very old house replace all basement wood beams?


This sounds familiar. I did an inspection/sizing job two weeks ago for a house built in 1800's. Will end up replacing the main beam (which currently is a tree trunk) and all of the joists and subfloor on the first floor. It can be done. But be careful. Older homes are typically balloon frame, and require special attention when you do this kind of work. Find a local engineer that specializes in this work.

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